Pitch coding and pitch processing in the human brain

Christopher J. Plack*, Daphne Barker, Deborah A. Hall

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

45 Citations (Scopus)


Neuroimaging studies have provided important information regarding how and where pitch is coded and processed in the human brain. Recordings of the frequency-following response (FFR), an electrophysiological measure of neural temporal coding in the brainstem, have shown that the precision of temporal pitch information is dependent on linguistic and musical experience, and can even be modified by short-term training. However, the FFR does not seem to represent the output of a pitch extraction process, and this raises questions regarding how the peripheral neural signal is processed to produce a unified sensation. Since stimuli with a wide variety of spectral and binaural characteristics can produce the same pitch, it has been suggested that there is a place in the ascending auditory pathway at which the representations converge. There is evidence from many different human neuroimaging studies that certain areas of auditory cortex are specifically sensitive to pitch, although the location is still a matter of debate. Taken together, the results suggest that the initial temporal pitch code in the auditory periphery is converted to a code based on neural firing rate in the brainstem. In the upper brainstem or auditory cortex, the information from the individual harmonics of complex tones is combined to form a general representation of pitch. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled <Human Auditory Neuroimaging>.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-64
Number of pages12
JournalHearing Research
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sensory Systems


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